Fargo's Moving Picture Extravaganza! Prometheus

The Alien series is one of the most tonally disconnected film franchises ever made.

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Most films that spawn sequel after sequel normally have their first offspring follow them thematically and tonally - if almost always with less success. With the original Alien, released in 1979 and directed by a then unknown Ridley Scott, its immediate predecessor was almost a complete reversal of what made the first film work. Aliens turned what was a claustrophobic film with an organic-horror twist into a tense, action focused experience. While the critical majority applaud both films, I've always found the disconnect uncomfortable and the shadow Aliens cast affected all the films in the franchise that followed. It's forever put me in an awkward state where I like to place the first film in its own little box, away from the gung-ho, fast-paced but really quite boring stories that came after.

However, I think it's time I added another film to Alien's box.

Sometimes to create life, you have to destroy first.

First things first - Prometheus is a prequel. The confusion surrounding how Prometheus relates to the Alien films is an issue solely with the hype and the deliberate, frustrating miscommunication between the fans and the filmmakers. It's set in the same universe, contains many familiar elements and takes place before the very first Alien movie. Ergo, prequel; one that precedes the events of the first film by about three decades. Set in 2093, the story of Prometheus revolves around a crew of scientists taking a ship to a distant planet in the hopes of discovering the origin of life itself.

Alien's 'lore' has always been one of those strange sacred cows of science-fiction where there isn't all that much to keep sacred. Throughout the first four films the only hint that has ever been given to the origins of our titular friend is hidden within the squishy, detailed visual design of the first movie. Ridley Scott's haunted house (but in space!) was a success thanks to the vast unknown it presented our protagonists. Deep in the void of space, there are some things that you don't need to understand. That is, if you could.

That Lovecraftian bent continues in Prometheus only now on a more galactic scale. For better and for worse. Even though the majority of the film takes place on a very isolated part of the planet and within the ship itself, the expanded budget lets Scott and his art team really go to work. Scott's stoic and gradual direction pulsates when working with the organic and mostly practical effects, and it crafts several scenes that are breathtakingly beautiful no matter how gooey and fleshy the design gets. Swiss surrealist H.R Giger - who won an Oscar for his effects work on Alien - returns to give us his special brand of techo-organic horror and it's the icing on the corporeal cake.

The visual design, from the titular spaceship to the innards of the planet, are stunning in both scope and design.
The visual design, from the titular spaceship to the innards of the planet, are stunning in both scope and design.

All the most memorable and impressive scenes are all born from the camera salivating over the delicious sets and assiduous design. From the cerebral to the anatomical, the camera feasts upon themes about the incomprehensible nature of God and the existence of life - with far more success than anything the character's say. The final script, which is the result of several revisions made by several writers, is the property of Damon Lindelof, known for co-creating the TV show Lost. Prometheus shares Lost's affinity for the mysterious, the vague and the enigmatic, but it took me by surprise just how willing Prometheus is to bleed into Alien. There are no straight, clean answers, but it doesn't take huge leaps of logic to connect the dots between the two films. Those who resonate with the word 'spacejockey' are probably going to get more out of Prometheus than others.

Questions individual to Prometheus itself aren't quite as satisfying. The several interesting discussions raised about the nature of life and creation aren't given enough treatment to feel solid and conclusive. There's no real definition to what could and probably should be the strongest elements within the script and it's not helped by the dialogue which veers between clunky and obnoxious. While a few of the conversations about life and God are thought-provoking, too many of them are unnatural and don't impregnate discussion so much as abort it. The dialogue in Alien was delivered by character's who were essentially space truckers. It was all very mumbled and grumbling and nonchalant, creating a sharp contrast between the horror of space and the dull throbbing of human mundanity. With the crew of scientists in Prometheus, the conversations become that much more high-concept and, as a result, that much more clunky. Despite a fantastic cast that breathe as much life and humanity into their lines as they can, the intricacies and details of the script are far too sterile to fully birth the strong themes that grow within the film.

Noomi Rapace heads a pitch perfect cast, though Michael Fassbender as the android David completely steals the show.
Noomi Rapace heads a pitch perfect cast, though Michael Fassbender as the android David completely steals the show.

Prometheus' stalwart refusal to answer its self-contained mythology would work if it was allowed to be as grand and overcoming and incompressible as the visuals paint it to be. Anyone who's ever flicked through Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness will glom onto the narrative allusions like a facehugger, but Lindelof misses the fundamentals to a Lovecraftian tale - something unexplained is infinitely more terrifying than the rationalized. By having clunky, analytical discussions about the meaning and creation of life, the script sucks some of that crucial atmosphere away. By also not giving any real answers, the mysteries of Prometheus feel caught in a strange middle-ground; not dark and unknowing enough to horrify, but not clear and defined enough to inspire.

How you feel about Prometheus is going to depend on two things - your personal connection to the Alien franchise and how willing you are to overlook the issues with the script. Despite the bloated, watery dialogue Prometheus - out of every sequel, spin-off and bastardization - comes the closest to capturing that existential terror I felt and still feel watching the original Alien. The grandeur and intelligence behind the visual design and the raw filmmaking skill on show gives it a twisted, beating heart and if the writing had been on par, Prometheus would be heralded as a classic. Instead it's simply a visceral, engaging piece of adult science-fiction that sees Ridley Scott at his purest and most astute in decades. It doesn't capture the gooey scares of its forty year old father, but the crushing weight of cosmic terror remains; even if it is buried under layers of minutia.

Ah the writing. Yes it certainly wasn't the best. Quite a lot of the things in the film didn't actually make sense and some of the ways that it was presented came across as confusing.

I'd also argue that the Scottish hills in the archaeology scene at the start look really similar to the alien planet, in a moment of lazy sets, but that could be the fact my memory isn't as good.

Great review, matches my opinion exactly and is presented nicely. A good read.

Calumon: Why couldn't I come? I like Greek things, like the food! :D

Jack and Calumon:
Ah the writing. Yes it certainly wasn't the best. Quite a lot of the things in the film didn't actually make sense and some of the ways that it was presented came across as confusing.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's a Ridley Scott Cut that fills in quite a few more blanks. Particularly,

So hopefully that will give better insight. We'll have to wait and see.

I'd also argue that the Scottish hills in the archaeology scene at the start look really similar to the alien planet, in a moment of lazy sets, but that could be the fact my memory isn't as good.

I think it's a coincidence. Almost all of the alien planet (which I think is called LV-223?) was shot in Iceland, alongside the opening scene with the waterfall. Locations just look similar.

I've seen and read many Prometheus reviews and this one is by far the best. Bravo, fine sir!
Seriously, stellar writing!!!

I also found the style of this movie to be more the substance than the substance itself. The way this movie was shot simply conveyed way more depth and emotion than anything in the script. You can imagine the classic masterpiece this movie could've been had the script been up to snuff, but instead it's very much a flawed diamond.

Being the fan of Alien you appear to be, you might know that Ridley Scott's intent with that film was to mate 2001: A Space Odyssey with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and with succes. With Prometheus he definately tried to lean more into 2001's direction. Prometheus itself even starts in primordial times and then cuts to the future (though that whole scene in Scotland felt a bit superfluous). Unfortunately the script can't back up the grand theology that the visuals strived for.

I still liked this movie though, and I really want to see it again when it's released on blu-ray.

I was actually surprise by how much I enjoyed this film. I knew it was going to be good but I'm not a devoted fan of the genre.

Aside from the writing that ranged from obnoxious ("It's Christmas and I want to open my present" >.> ) to the occasional dialogue about liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife that just felt hammered in and not very interesting, everything else in the film was great and worked together very well and was the best film I've seen this summer.
Also Michael Fuckin' Fassbender was amazing.

One question though which I admit I feel dumb for asking <.<

Scde2:
One question though which I admit I feel dumb for asking <.<

Maybe those cave paintings with the Engineers pointing to the star system were missing a speech bubble saying, "Don't go there!"

Seriously, I think that's just a plothole. This movie is kinda littered with them. I still very much liked it though.

 

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